Forbes Library


The Forbes Library in Northamption, Massachusetts, United States, was created due to the bequest of Judge Charles Edward Forbes, a descendent of John (Fobes) Forbes (1608 – 1661), the first Forbes in the United States.


Charles Edward Forbes was born on August 25, 1795, in West Bridgewater, Massachusetts, United States, to Jesse and Molly (Packard) Fobes. His father was the great-great-grandson of John (Fobes) Forbes (1608 – 1661), the first Forbes in the United States.

Charles Edward Forbes, portrait by Louise A. Bradbury

Forbes graduated from Brown University in 1815 and in 1817 came to Northampton, Massachusetts, to create a thriving law partnership with Elijah Mills. Daniel Webster added Forbes to his legal team that successfully defended the will of Oliver Smith, who created the Smith Charities in 1849. A few decades later, Forbes wrote the will of Sophia Smith that established Smith College in Northampton. In February 1848, Forbes was appointed an associate justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court but resigned in October of that same years due to the tedious but necessary commute to Boston.


A lifelong bachelor who rented rooms in Northampton, Forbes amassed a tidy sum through stocks in the New Haven-Northampton Canal and his investments in the railroad business. In his will, Forbes stated that: “It is my design to form a library of works of science and the arts in their broadest acceptation, of ancient and modern history, and of the literatures of our own and other nations…” He also noted that “it has been my aim to place within reach of the inhabitants of a town, in which I have lived long and pleasantly, the means of learning, if they are disposed to learn…”

Forbes died on February 13, 1881, and the Northampton city council accepted the terms of the will regarding his $220,000 bequest. The council decided to allow the funds to accrue for ten years and the construction of the library began in 1893.


The council hired the library’s first director, Charles Ammi Cutter, who compiled a collection in time for its opening on October 23, 1894. William Brocklesby designed the three-story Richardsonian Romanesque building, which is on the National Register of Historic Buildings.

Calvin Coolidge Presidential Library and Museum

Forbes Library provided library services for Smith College from 1894 to 1909, until the college developed its own library. The library is also home to the Calvin Coolidge Presidential Library and Museum, which began in 1920 when President Coolidge began donating various records and memorabilia to the library. The collection was furthered in 1956 when the Commonwealth of Massachusetts established the Calvin Coolidge Memorial Room at the behest of Grace Coolidge.

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